Friday, December 30, 2011

52 Year Old Prostitute Still Working the Point (I Collared Her Back in the Day)

52, and Still Working the Streets

Julie Glassberg for The New York Times
Barbara Terry, 52, has worked nearly her entire adult life as a prostitute in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. She hopes to retire in a year or so to a house she bought upstate.

LIKE many single mothers, Barbara Terry, 52, scrounged for baby sitters and leaned on her own mother while raising her four children and working the night shift.
But Ms. Terry is a prostitute who has worked nearly her entire adult life on the streets of Hunts Point, in the Bronx..
“When they were old enough to understand, I would tell them the truth,” said Ms. Terry, whose daughter and three sons are now grown. “I’d say, ‘This is how I’m supporting you.’ For me, it’s a business, a regular job.”
Yes, she said, she was arrested more than 100 times, sometimes landing at Rikers Island for several days or weeks — but that never deterred her from returning to this area of industrial warehouses and repair shops off the Bruckner Expressway.
By day, heavy industrial traffic fills the streets. By night, the traffic comes for other reasons. Years back, this prostitutes’ “track” bustled with working women, and Ms. Terry was front and center in garter belts and high heels and fur coats.
“It was beautiful out here then,” she said. “There was so much money out here, you wouldn’t believe it.”
The area is less active now than in the 1990s, when HBO made its “Hookers at the Point” documentaries, in which Ms. Terry appeared under a street name, Cleo, and flashed a youthful, toothy smile.
Those great teeth are gone, lost to diabetes, Ms. Terry said. She mostly works days now and dresses more conservatively. “Most women don’t make it to my age out here,” she said. “I call myself the last of the survivors.”
While it is impossible to corroborate all the details of an eventful life in a profession often synonymous with drug abuse, violence and tragic outcomes, the Correction Department confirmed that Ms. Terry had been jailed many times for prostitution over her career.
Today, Ms. Terry lives nearby in the Bronx, but she hopes to retire in a year or so to a house she bought upstate, she said on Tuesday at her usual spot on Whittier Street. She had a supply of condoms in her purse, a plastic cup of vodka and orange juice in her hand and a cellphone for steady customers.
Those customers, dates or tricks, can be lawyers, city workers, husbands, fathers or truckers heading in and out of the sprawling Hunts Point food markets.
Then there are the psychos. All the women out here have had friends attacked or cut or dumped dead somewhere. Last year, a man was arrested, and recently sentenced, for terrorizing prostitutes in the Bronx with a razor.
“I’ve survived because God was with me,” Ms. Terry said. “Every Sunday, my mother and grandmother prayed for me out here.”
She has shown younger workers the ropes: how to jump in a Dumpster to hide from the police, and how to stay alive. First, never enter a car with more than one person in it, and never let someone drive you out of the area. Get your money up front — Ms. Terry charges $50 or $100 — and try to work with a buddy.
“You look for weapons, you check the back seat, and you go by your vibes,” she said. “If they look strange, you stay away.”
There have been close calls, like the time a trucker locked her in and tried to rape her.
“I never did drugs and never worked for a pimp for protection,” she said. “What protection? If I’m in someone’s car, about to die, ain’t no pimp in there helping me.”
“I never carried a blade,” said Ms. Terry, who grew up in the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn before her family moved to North Carolina for her teenage years. “My fists were my weapons. I learned to fight growing up with nine younger brothers.”
Ms. Terry said she completed two years of college, training to be a medical lab technician, but by the time she was 21, her husband had left her and she had two children to support. All she knew about prostitutes was what she saw on “Starsky & Hutch,” but she knew about the Hunts Point action and came out on her own. She admits she became addicted to the stimulation of the street life.
“I love the excitement of coming out here and seeing all these beautiful people I know,” she said. “Even my dates are a comfort. This place has made me strong. It keeps you young.”
But she has slowed down. A year ago, she was in a bad accident and was hospitalized with a broken jaw and neck injuries. Her children, two of whom she says she put through college, beg her to get off the street.
“I’m the mother, so they can’t say anything,” she said. “When I’m ready to get off, I’ll get off.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's Just a Numbers Game

The job is a numbers game. I know, because the end of the year is when all the numbers get tallied up. It's a busy time, and I've been busy getting my unit's numbers together to present at the beginning of the new year (just in case you are wondering why there have been no new posts in the last week).

The numbers game starts the moment you hit the streets. They expect a book (20) or more parking summonses per month per rookie, a handful of moving violations and one or two Criminal Court ( C ) summonses. Oh, and an arrest a month. Get on the sheet early kid, or you'll be hunting for that collar (arrest) as the month winds down.

As a rookie, I had a day where I wrote a book of parking summonses before meal time. There was a spot that was a ticket well of sorts - an automotive parts store without a parking lot. It had a bus stop and a fire hydrant in front of it. Both were places that you weren't allowed to park. It's not a secret. Everybody knew, they just didn't care. They paid it so little mind, they would see me standing near the bus stop sign, park right in front of me and walk into the store. It wasn't fishing in a barrel. It was the fish taking the hook in the own fins and piercing their own lips.

Easy numbers. Rookies rarely got in trouble for making or exceeding their numbers. Senior guys understood the rooks were on probation and they had to produce. If I had 2 years or more on and pulled a book of parkers in 3 hours, my locker would have found its way into the shower, upside down. Cops police themselves.

The job is always a struggle between management, that has "productivity goals" (because a quota would be against the law) and the rank and file, that tend to rebel against the idea that in addition to answering jobs, making reports, assisting EMS and whatnot, they are expected to write summonses / tickets.

What management sees as a tool to evaluate productivity, the cop sees as a turning him from his role as a police officer to one of a revenue generator. Most cops see a ticket as a way to correct a poor action by another, and in many cases would rather not issue it (although I hear things may be different in the Commonwealth of Virginia).

Still, in the end, it's just another number. Crimes, arrests, summonses issued, stop/question/frisk reports written, vertical patrols, checkpoints (and the summonses written), traffic court cases won and lost, days on patrol, days in court, days out sick, overtime earned (cash and time separately counted) - all these and more define both the department and it's employees. Heck, you are even identified by two numbers: your shield number and a six digit tax number.

You are just a number, made up of other numbers - at least, that's how it seems you are looked upon as the higher ranks look down. The higher the rank, the more you look like a number. Except for the handful of bosses that rise through the ranks, and still see their cops for what they are. Not just numbers but names.

Ah well, I need to go back to my numbers. ;)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Of Three Legged Dogs and Non Existent Pigeons

Station House Security is probably one of the most boring posts one can receive as a cop. It's your job to make sure that unauthorized individuals aren't allowed to walk right up to the desk officer. It's kinda like being a Walmart Greeter, but with a gun and without the shopping cart.

I've done my fair share of station house security.  Most were monotonous and boring.  There are moments, however, that do stick out.

I was killing time at my post talking to one of the squad detectives. He was an old timer, complete with chewed up cigar, and punctuated many of his sentences with "back in the day." Still, he was a good guy, a rarity if you will, as he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to the new kids in the precinct, and it was worthwhile knowledge to receive. In any case, every couple of minutes as we are talking, grit would fall from above us, off of the station house. I didn't think much of it right away, but by the third time I remarked: "It must be annoying having pigeons by the squad room windows all the time."

"Kid, this house ain't got pigeons. Are you referring to the crap that keeps falling?"

"Yeah, what else would be knocking dirt off of the window ledges?"

"Alright. Look straight ahead, then turn to 1 oclock. Ya' see the housing projects about 1/2 mile or so away? Ya do?   Good.   Move your gaze to the roof.  What do you see?"

"I see someone playing with a lighter I think. Yeah, the flash of a lighter."

"Nah kid, that's the muzzle flash of a 22. They're shootin' at the house. At this range, they're lucky to hit the building at all. That's where your grit comes from, rounds hitting above us. Heck, the rounds don't even nick the window glass. Pretty harmless. It's what some folks do for nightly entertainment around here."

"Okay... Uhm, lets move our conversation inside if you don't mind." And we did.

Another time I had the duty, the precinct dog was hanging out with me. He was a three legged mutt, and spent the day usually running around with his harem of female strays, but when the sun went down, he came back to the precinct for food, water and warmth (he would often sleep in the vestibule).

He knew cops. I mean, really knew them. He also knew those that didn't belong in the precinct - everyone but cops. If he was by the door, and you worked in the precinct, even in civilian attire, he would approach for a head scratch. Same for a cop in uniform, even outside commands. A civilian making a complaint or reporting a loss? Teeth would be bared and his viscous growl was something to behold. Many a report was taken outside on the hood of a patrol car when he was on post.

On the night in question, I was on post when the Duty Captain came by to inspect the station house, which pretty much entails scratching the book at the desk and leaving just as fast. He was in a suit and overcoat. In other words, he looked like a civilian.

I gave him a nod as he approached and the precinct mutt went right into action. He got up on all 3 legs and did that watchdog growl.

"Officer, tell your dog to stand down!"

Was he kidding? Did he really think it was my dog?

"Boss, show him your shield. He likes cops. Everyone else he doesn't let in."

The captain gave me the 'you must think I'm an easy mark to try that' kinda look, but with the dog not standing down, and the Captain obviously not going anywhere, he finally relented and took his shield out of his pocket. He actually thrusted it forward for the dog to see.

The mutt turned his head to the side slightly, then moved forward to sniff the shield. Once he was satisfied, he lowered his head for the Captain to pet him (which he did) after which he went back to sitting across from me.

The Captain entered the station house without saying another word. When he left 2 minutes later, he paused to to scratch the mutt's head again before driving off to the next command.  I doubt the next command had a 3 legged dog doing station house security.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Miserable and Working

I have a cold from hell right now.  It's from one of the outer layers of hell, but it's still hellish.  It has, however sapped my ability to write anything fairly coherent.  Besides, all my energy is going to actually dragging my ass to work.

Here's the deal with my job.  We have unlimited sick time.  You can be out for 11 months and still draw your salary (I know, I did it).  There is this whole formula that is used to determine if you are "Chronic Sick" or not.  Let's just say I've never hit that list and have no intention to.

Sick is for those "holy shit, i'm dying over here!  I may actually need to see a doctor!" as opposed to the "I feel like shit.  I'd love to stay home, watch some TV, maybe work in the garden" type of sick.

It's just how I am.  There's lots of cops like me on my job.  Every year we get what is affectionately known as the "Retard Award" (not politically correct, but cops aren't known for their political correctness).  In other words, your Perfect Attendance Award.  I think if I can last another year I get a pen.  Wheeeee!

In any case, I'll try to get a good night sleep tonight and hopefully I'll be adding another chapter to the Rookie Saga tomorrow.  Time for me to share my cold with my wife now.  Misery loves company ;)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Crime Scenes and Raspberry Jam

It was my second week of field training when I got my first crime scene assigned to me. At roll call, myself and my partner were told to immediately fall out and respond to the housing project on e163 street. There were numerous buildings in the complex, each in the 10-14 story range for height. One of the first things I had noticed when I had the post earlier in the week were the number of people middle aged and younger walking with limps, canes and in wheel chairs. I mentioned my observation to a cop with a little more time on then me, and he suggested it had to do with the large number of shootings in the precinct. It was as good an answer as any, but it didn't make me feel all that much better.

When we arrived at the location, there must have been at least a dozen patrol cars and unmarks parked outside. Some were from the precinct, and least two were from the PSA (think a police precinct that just covers housing locations - we overlapped) and the unmarks were probably the detectives. It was soon apparent that this was more then "just some crime scene".

Walking up four flights of stairs is never fun, but I learned to have an aversion to elevators in public housing from the first time I stepped in one - the overwhelming stench of marinating urine in a confined, unventilated metal box is far from pleasant. I'm not saying the stairs smelled much better (they had the added obstacle of dog feces liberally strewn about) but at least the air had movement to it.

Stepping out on the fourth floor, we immediately spotted our destination. Just across from the stairs and to the right was an open doorway. Activity was apparently going on inside the apartment and bosses were milling around outside of it. Looking closely, we could see a body laid out in the doorway and some blood splatter on the door.

"Lou! The rooks are here!" It was a cop from the precinct who made the announcement, drawing the attention of the Lieutenant that had control of the scene.

"Right. Put yourselves 84 at this location. You're assigned to preserve the crime scene. No one comes onto this floor unless they have police business. Keep away the gawkers, even if they are our own. I don't care if they have eagles on their shoulders, unless they are part of the investigative team keep them away. Can you handle that?"

Do you think we were going to question the Lou's orders? Of course we said we could handle it. We did. Kinda. We didn't keep anyone away that was a Captain or higher, not that we could, but we kept the rank and file at bay, as well as the inquisitive residents. Heck, we even started up a conversation with two crime scene detectives that were waiting on the precinct detectives to wrap up so they could do their work. Somehow, that conversation caused us more harm then good.

See, as the four of use were chatting, a middle aged male black in a dark brown suit came down the hall from the elevator. He looked like a detective and he made a beeline to the apartment door, the one with the victim lying in it, shot twice in the head, blood and brain matter covering the floor. Heck, he nonchalantly stepped over the body and introduced himself to one of the detectives working the scene. He was the victim's older brother.

That's about the biggest f-up one can do at a crime scene. We did it. When the pissed off detective come out of the apartment to yell at us, one of the crime scene detectives stated that he let the brother past so he could ID the victim. It was a good answer, and it shut the detective up, but he knew it was bullshit. My training sergeant told me it was bullshit too when I got back to command, but he also stressed the importance of always having an answer. But that was later.

We weren't done yet at the crime scene. The precinct detectives were taking the victim's brother back to the Station House to get more info. Crime Scene was now in charge of the crime scene, and they went to work collecting evidence. Which was all fine until I heard my name called from inside the apartment.

I approached the door, doing my best not to look at the body, blood and brains right in front of me.

"Yeah?" I answered, not sure why I summoned.

"Step in. You're vouchering the evidence. It's the least you can do." It was the detective that covered for us. Now it was time to pay him back.

"Kid. Do yourself a favor and look at him. He doesn't care anymore. Look and get it out of your system. You have a whole career of this and more waiting for you."

So I did. I looked at the young black male. Mid 20's, shot twice in the front of his head, right in the forehead. The blood had started to thicken on the floor. Bits of brain matter could be seen in the blood. Raspberry jam. Raspberry jam with bits of raspberry. That what the victim was lying in. It felt better then blood and brains. It looked better too.

"You good? Excellent. Come on in. Don't worry about stepping in the blood, it's kinda hard to miss at this point. Here's the shit you'll be typing vouchers for back at the station house."

 I stepped in the raspberry jam.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Separation of Church and State - South Bronx Style

I was on a solo foot post in the vicinity of Southern Blvd (with the elevated train above it) and Boston Road when I was a approached by a male black, maybe 50.  He was quite agitated, and was repeatedly putting his hand to his throat in the universal "I'm Choking" sign.

"Come!  You come with me!"  He grabbed at the sleeve of my jacket but I brushed his hand away.

"Sir (as I was ever the polite officer at the time), how can I help you?"

"Me.  Can't breath good.  Him, curse me.  Come!"

"Oh boy.  WTF was this crap?" I thought to myself.  "Two Post Seven to Central.  Show me with a pick up of a dispute, Boston and Southern.  No further needed."  I didn't want one of the sector cars rushing to back me up.  "Be advised, verbal dispute only."  Central acknowledged and requested I update when I had further.

So i found myself following my new found complainant about 2 blocks, to a small apartment building.  The whole time he was making sounds like a cat hacking up a hairball.  I knew the sound well, as I've been a life long cat person.  It is not a highlight of owning a cat.

He opened the lobby door and gestured for me to follow.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  "Two Post Seven to Central.  Show me at (some random number) Vyse Ave in regards to my verbal dispute."  There, God forbid I was stepping from a pile of shit into some serious shit, at least they would know where to find me.

Our destination was directly ahead of us, at the end of the first floor hall.  What I was about to witness was something I was never trained for.

Bamn!  Bamn! Bamn! on the apartment door.  My complainant was excited and anxious.  The door opened quickly.  On the other side of the doorway was another black man, dressed all in black,  He held some beads in his hand.  It might have been a rosary, but I didn't intend to get close enough to know for sure.

My guy was the first to speak.

"You!  You put curse on me!  Now I can't breath.  So, now I bring police!"

"Eh!  Why would I waste my magic on you!  You are nothing!  I don't use my magic on nothings!"

"See!  I tell you he curse me, now he deny!  Arrest him!  Take him to jail!  I can't breath!"

Strange thing is, my guy was breathing well enough.  I mean, these two were yelling back and forth at each other now.  I could see it was getting out of hand, and if I didn't end it soon they might even come to blows.  At that point, I would be arresting people.

"Listen up!  Both of you!  Shut it!"

I was actually surprised that they both shut up.  Now I had two sets of eyes, looking at me for a decision.  Or an answer.  Something.

"You!"  I said to the man in the apartment.  "No more magic!  Understand?  No mas!"

Then I turned my attention to the man that had drawn me in to this quagmire.

"We need to step outside and talk" I said.

"You need to understand, due to the separation of church and state, there really isn't much I can do directly.  This is a religious matter.  I can offer some advice, however.  If this man is cursing you, why don't you see a Catholic Priest.  Even better, there s a Botanica around the corner.  Talk to them in there.  They can probably help you."

"Yes! Yes!  Thank you!"  he tried to hug me, but I redirected it to a handshake.  "I feel better already.  Yes, I can breathe!"  And then he walked around the corner, excited to be going to a Botanica.

Me?  I realized I was dealing with Haitians and their Voodoo in the middle of their yelling match.  I would have realized sooner, the signs were there, but it isn't something that would have ever occurred to me on it's own.

"Two Post Seven to Central.  Central, mark my job a 97 Robert - referred to... referred to mediation."  I certainly wasn't going to say referred to Santaria.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Good Cops Walk the Same Beat

(found this online - I think it gives a very good perspective of the calling to law enforcement)

"A cop is sitting at dinner with civilian friends when the conversation turns towards the sad news of the police officer that was killed in the line of duty earlier in the day. Did you hear of the officer who was killed today, someone asks. Yeah, replies the cop, clearly angry and saddened at the senseless loss. 
As most cops have experienced, the common question is then asked. Did you know him?... Yes I knew him, said the suddenly quiet veteran. The question continue, We're you coworkers? pries the friend. No I never met him, but I knew him, said the cop. Intrigued, but confused the civilian sits up a little straighter and asks for clarification. The cop looks away and says, I never met him but I knew him
He was a idealistic young man when he joined the department. He sought a job but found a calling. He took an oath and swore to uphold his end of it to the best of his ability. He wanted to make a difference. To protect and to serve. He wanted to help. He would never say that out loud for fear of sounding like a "movie" cop. 
As he got into the job, he worried about the dangers but put them out of his mind. He had a front row seat to the greatest show on earth. The best and the worst of the human existence and he loved it but it also made him tired. It drained him. The daily toll of seeing people treating each other poorly can be seen in his demeanor. The countless victims of all ages. The fear that accompanies responding to a man with a gun call. Or the stress of pulling the limp body of a child from a burning building. The horror of collecting body parts in the aftermath of an avoidable vehicular accident involving a car load of teenagers. 
The freezing nights standing a foot post or walking a beat. The skeptical looks from assistant district attorneys when he recounted how he arrested the multiple time, repeat offender. The frustration of feeling the questioning, sideways looks from community members who painted him with the same broad brush when a fellow police officer is accused of misconduct. The constant reminder of the everyday dangers he and other officers face as he straps on his bullet resistant vest and holsters his firearm. 
The days and nights spent away from family and friends during holidays and special events because he had to go to work. The cold meals and endless cups of tepid bad coffee. He also felt the exhilaration of delivering a baby in the back seat of his police car. Of arresting the serial rapist who had been preying on the women in "his" precinct. The special bond he shared with his fellow cops, but most especially with partner. His brother from another mother. The tears of mourning a fallen colleague. 
All this he endured because he took an oath. All because he wanted to make a difference. I don't know his name, but yes, I knew him. I knew him well."

A Different Kind of Air Mail

Our first day (or more precisely, night) on the streets of the South Bronx was almost surreal. There were 30 rookies that needed posting, so there were 30 posts defined for us. Roll Call was at 1735 hrs (535 PM for the civvies reading this) and it was as chaotic as you might expect.

Names were called out, posts were assigned, poorly copied maps of the precinct and a post list were issued, meal times were given and precinct conditions were addressed. We were to hit the streets and make our presence known to those that had ill intent. Or some such nonsense. Better advice would to have been "know where your cover is and watch your backs".

I pulled a lucky post. It was actually adjacent to the station house As I left for post, others were still trying to find theirs on the maps. Some where a mile or more to the north. A long walk or bus ride was in store for most.

My beat that night was e161 Street, basically from the station house's block to the border we shared with the 44 precinct to our west. It was cold and lit only by the occasional streetlight or livery cab driving by. The first bottle lobbed in my direction occurred about 30 minutes after I hit my post.

I didn't see it coming. Heck, I didn't even know it was thrown until it landed a good 15 to 20' from me, exploding in a small shattering of glass. Looking around, I couldn't figure out who threw it. The street near me was devoid of people. It was a scary mystery that got the hairs on my neck standing up.

Shortly thereafter, the radio on my gun belt went crazy with activity. Rookies on a foot post in one of the housing projects reported a small porcelain sink crashed on the sidewalk near them as they walked by. Another had batteries thrown at them. Someone else got clipped by a shard from a shattering ceiling tile that was tossed at them from above. No one bothered putting bottles thrown at them on the radio. I learned a new police slang term that night: "Air Mail". There was a lot of air mail that night.

We learned not to walk too close to a building line, to look up and around more often then you looked at what was before you. We learned that there was an element that knew we were newly minted. They wanted to set the tone, they wanted to intimidate us. Heck, they wanted to hurt us.

Our sergeant spent the rest of that night matching up adjoining posts. Safety in numbers. Solo posts were over and done that night with very few exceptions. I was one of the exceptions, as he forgot I was out there until I returned to the house at the end of the tour.

At least none of the other three bottles got as close as the first one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Final Inspection

Found this online and thought I would share it: "The Final Inspection" The policeman stood and faced his God, Which must always come to pass. He hoped his shoes were shining. ... Just as brightly as his brass. "Step forward now, policeman. How shall I deal with you? Have you always turned the other cheek? To My church have you been true?" The policeman squared his shoulders and said, "No, Lord, I guess I ain't, Because those of us who carry badges can't always be a saint. I've had to work most Sundays, and at times my talk was rough, and sometimes I've been violent, Because the streets are awfully tough. But I never took a penny, That wasn't mine to keep.... Though I worked a lot of overtime When the bills got just too steep. And I never passed a cry for help, Though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, God forgive me, I've wept unmanly tears. I know I don't deserve a place Among the people here. They never wanted me around Except to calm their fear. If you've a place for me here, Lord, It needn't be so grand. I never expected or had too much, But if you don't.....I'll understand. There was silence all around the throne Where the saints had often trod. As the policeman waited quietly, For the judgment of his God. "Step forward now, policeman, You've borne your burdens well. Come walk a beat on Heaven's streets, You've done your time in hell." Author Unknown

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What Do You Mean I Can't Have a Big Mac?

There were 2 days of precinct orientation in total. The second day was to familiarize us with the precinct itself, what the issues were, what the crimes were, where they mostly occurred and the like.

Pretty much it was everything was going on everywhere. We were leading the city in shootings and were second in homicides, or was it we were leading the city in homicides and were second in shootings? I'm not sure if it really made a difference, but the sergeant that was talking sure seemed proud of the fact. That in and of itself should have scared me, but what I found more unsettling was the following facts.

The Four-Two did not have the following within the confines of it's precinct boundaries:

- a single parking meter

- a single, national fast food restaurant (unless you counted the White Castle on our western border)

- a single bank

What that list meant is that the neighborhood was beyond poor. Wikipedia lists the congressional district that covers it as one of the 5 poorest in the country today. Back in the mid 90's, it was poorer, and we were in the epicenter of it all.

Empty lots strewn with building rubble would sit opposite 20 story tall Public Housing Projects.

When we were told we had over 50 different public housing locations, ranging from 9 stories to 21 stories, I didn't grasp the significance. I had no previous experience with public housing. That would change shortly.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Police Officer's Prayer for PO Figoski, Line of Duty Death

We lost a 22 year veteran of the NYPD this morning, shot in the face by a burglar. PO Figoski, 75 Precinct, rest in peace.

Police Officer's Prayer to St. Michael

Saint Michael, heaven's glorious commissioner of police, who once so neatly and successfully cleared God's premises of all its undesirables, look with kindly and professional eyes on your earthly force.

Give us cool heads, stout hearts, and uncanny flair for investigation and wise judgement.

Make us the terror of burglars, the friend of children and law-abiding citizens, kind to strangers, polite to bores, strict with law-breakers and impervious to temptations.

You know, Saint Michael, from your own experiences with the devil that the police officer's lot on earth is not always a happy one; but your sense of duty that so pleased God, your hard knocks that so surprised the devil, and your angelic self-control give us inspiration.

And when we lay down our night sticks, enroll us in your heavenly force, where we will be as proud to guard the throne of God as we have been to guard the city of all the people.


(Saturday Knight Special's next entry will be tomorrow)

What You Get Isnt Always What You See

When I write about my experiences as a young cop, I've been trying to remember my mindset and emotions at those exact moments in question. It isn't always easy, but it is easier then I expected. Still, time has a way of smoothing out the edges, and I am sure there are pieces that I misremember slightly. I was not, and I'm still not, the type of person that keeps a diary.

All that being said, these events often worked at multiple levels, even though I didn't necessarily see it that way at the times in question. Obviously, for the most part, you'll be seeing events through my eyes, and as I've worn glasses since high school I ask that you make allowances for the occasional distortion. They should be minor. The vast majority of names, are, of course, changed. This is mostly my story, and I don't have the right to identify others directly. If those that I depict read the events, they should be able to recognize themselves easily enough. Besides, what's in a name? ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What's In a Name?

When the time came for my first official day in my new command, I was very surprised to find that there were 29 other rookies assigned with me.  Adding 30 cops in one shot to a police precinct told me two things - the precinct had been vastly understaffed and that finding a locker was going to be real painful.

Part of the process of getting acclimated to our new command involved filling out numerous amounts of paperwork listing things that "the job" already had from us, but our new command wanted us to go through all the motions again.  We had to fill out "10-Cards", which listed everything from contact information, emergency contact information, qualifications (such as the ever popular Van Qualification, which allowed you to drive a department van), firearm serial numbers (there's a story in that for a later date), date of hire, exam and list number (for seniority reasons) - all this was going on the equivalent of a 3x5 index card.

We were also introduced to our PBA (union) delegates as well as representatives from fraternal organizations, usually along the lines of ethic and religious categories.  Joining the Holy Name Society would get us an excusal one Saturday a year for the Annual Breakfast Mass.  Needless to say I joined.  The Steuben Society for those of German and Austrian heritage - I was in.  One of the PBA delegates was also the Emerald Society delegate for the command.  He was holding a roster listing the new rookies, and he called out a name:

"Donovan McCloud - Where are ya lad?" he asked of the crowded room of rooks.

The officer next to me stood up.  "That's me sir."

"Er, right.  Just checking.  You can sit down."

Officer McCloud, a dark skinned black male, promptly did so.  Apparently even cops with time on can make poor assumptions.  That was one cop that would not be joining the Emerald Society.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Looking For Lockers in All the Wrong Places

We were told, unofficially of course, that our new commands would probably be short on lockers for us, and that the wise rookie would show up on the Friday night prior to their Monday assignment to arrange a proper locker for themselves.
I had never driven in the South Bronx prior to that Friday night.  Never had any desire nor need.  As this was before Mapquest and GPS’s I convinced my friend Kenny to make the trip with me.  He’d navigate, I’d drive.
Surprisingly enough we found the precinct without much difficulty.  It was dark and cold when we arrived.  I noticed there were three others milling about in front of the building.  One I recognized from my gym block.  Great!  Three more rookies to fight over a locker.
Chris, the one I recognized, walked up to me right away.  
“You’re here for a locker too.”  It was a statement, not a question.  “That makes four of us.  We haven’t gone in yet, but since you’re here, we may as well.”
So the four of us walked in through the large double wooden doors (the same doors you see in the outside shots of the police precinct in the movie Fort Apache, The Bronx), with me somehow in the front of the small pack.  I’m still not sure how that happened, as I wanted to be in the back.
I’ve noticed over the years that walking into a police precinct for the first time is always an unsettling experience.  You know you don’t belong.  Even if you’re a member of the same department, it’s not your precinct.  It’s not your home.  You’re a stranger.  At  best you’re a guest, but it takes a while before it becomes your home.  We definitely did not feel welcome.
“Uhm, excuse me Sarge” I said to the Sergeant behind the desk.  He sat high, as the desk area was raised above the floor by a step in the first place, and his chair was probably set as high as it could be.  He was eating some kind of meat and rice dish, had food stains on his shirt and tie (some looked new, others old) and didn’t even look up from his food when he addressed us.
“Let me guess, rooks looking for lockers.  Well, we aint got none, so you’ll be changing in your cars.”  It was at this point he looked up from his food and made a show of wiping his face with a paper napkin.
“You do know where you are, right?  This is the Four-Two Precinct.  We are the asshole of The Bronx!”  He must have seen the looks on our faces - fear, confusion, you name it, because then he explained.
“To the east we have the Four-One, to the west we have the Four-Four, and to the South we have the Four-Oh.  A pair of ass cheeks and balls below us.  We are the asshole.  Smack in the middle of The South Bronx.  I’d have one of the cops drive you around and give you a show, but we have two shootings going on and ain’t noone here to take ya... heh.”
“Well, watcha waiting for!  I told you there weren’t any!  Get outa my house!”
So went my first night in the Four-Two Precinct.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Welcome to The Bronx

Just to set things right and proper, I need to give some background of myself.  I'm a born and raised New Yorker, a product of 12 years in the NYC Public School System and 8 1/2 years of attending the City University of New York (8 1/2 years to get my BA - never said I was a fast learner).  My father was a union member before retiring and always stressed a union job for me.  This lead me to taking numerous civil service exams.  The list that finally hired me was the New York City Police Department, hereafter referred to as the NYPD.

I'll come back to my hiring and training process later.  Suffice to say, they are stories unto themselves.  Instead, we'll start the story near the end of my academy training.  We were given "dream sheets" earlier in training, sheets in which we were told to indicate our preferred commands for assignment upon graduation.  They were referred to as "dream sheets", because you must-a been dreaming if you thought you were getting anything you remotely hoped for.

I received my assignment and like many others, headed to the wall sized map outside the Police academy cafeteria.  It was a map of New York City's five boroughs, broken down by Police Precinct (some cities might call them Districts).  I had no idea were my assigned precinct was, I just knew it wasn't in Queens or Manhattan, my preferred destinations.  Once I saw where it was, my heart went a mile a minute.  Not from joy either, trust me.

I rode the train home that day in early March, dreading the sight of my mother.  As much as my assignment upset me, I feared her response more.  My instincts were correct.

She was cooking dinner when I arrived and at any other time I would have remarked on how good it smelled.  Not this time.  Not this afternoon.

"Did you get your precinct assignment?" she asked immediately upon seeing me enter the kitchen.  She knew today was the day.  Mom hadn't been all that keen about me becoming a cop in the first place - she was about half a step from being dead set against it.  Still, she was my mother and was extremely supportive every step of the way.

"Yep" was my response.  I really didn't need, or want, to say more.

One look at my face gave it away.  I really sucked at keeping thoughts off my face back then.

"You didn't get Queens?"  I just shook my head.

"Manhattan neither?" Again, just my head moved, slightly.

"Brooklyn?!?" Her voice rose at the end of Brooklyn.  I can still hear it in my head as if it were yesterday.  I think at this point, she already knew the answer, but we both had to go through the motions.

"Transit?  Not Housing I hope - no?  They can't send you to Staten Island unless you request it, right?"  I just stood there.

"The Bronx!?!"  There, she said it, but we both knew there was more to it then just The Bronx.  The Bronx is a big borough, and even in the mid 90's there were pockets that weren't all that bad.  This was that bad.

"The SOUTH Bronx."  She said it.  Yes, "south" was all in capital letters.  You could have heard a pin drop over the next few seconds, even with the water on the stove at a rapid boil.

She turned away then, back to preparing dinner.  I actually saw a tear on her face, but when I went to comfort her she blamed the onions and would have none of it.  Her son was going to be a cop in The South Bronx, the borough that was burning during the 70s and 80s.  The fires had stopped for the most part, but it was still The South Bronx